Recently, a friend asked if I thought addiction was a choice or a disease.
My take on it is different. I know it to be a lack of connection, a lack of self-esteem, and an ignorance of positive coping mechanisms. People who have faced any deep emotional trauma are especially vulnerable to addiction. In fact, almost ALL adults have some form of addiction to something, be it unhealthy food, nicotine, alcohol, gambling, unhealthy codependent relationships or drama, consumerism, prescriptions or hard street drugs.
Addiction is a cycle: experiencing pain, using an addictive agent to soothe and distract yourself from your pain, temporary anesthesia, consequences, shame and guilt that creates the pain of low self-esteem – and repeat.
I am an ex drug addict. My drug of choice was pain pills, first given to me by a doctor. Acquiring them after my prescription ran out was relatively easy, given that I also self medicated with marijuana – and if you can find one illegal substance on the black market, you can find any. This is another reason why I advocate for legalization of marijuana- had I been able to walk into a store or get a prescription for weed, I would have run out of pain medication and not been able to access the black market to get any more to perpetuate an addiction.
I was addicted for seven months, stopped, and had a three-month relapse about five years later. I spent about $3000 over those time periods, and also stole from family members to support the habit. My kidneys suffered, my children suffered, my finances tanked, and my relationships with everyone got swept under my need for the drug. This is a common refrain from any addict’s life.
My reasons for starting were pretty basic. I was in actual physical pain from a toothache and went to the ER, and though they couldn’t do any dental work or even set up an appointment, they gave me a large supply of hydrocodone. It was the only remedy they had, and I didn’t have dental insurance. So I began taking the pills. (aside – coconut oil pulling cures toothaches, and is completely healthy and cheap)
Within days, the pain was gone and not returning but I was hooked on the feelings the drug gave me. I had boundless energy and drive to get up and accomplish things like housecleaning, or pursue my interests, or get out of the house and do things with my kids or partner. And of course, lots of energy for sex. It was a cure all – because it numbed my emotional pain, too. I was in a deep depression before receiving the prescription and the codeine numbed me to where my anxiety didn’t have such a vice grip on my energy levels anymore. I loved it. I saw it as a solution, finally, to everything I didn’t like about my life! I had a cleaner house, I had a healthier social life because it numbed my self judgement emotions, allowing me to be more outgoing. I had all the internal drugs from lots more sexual activity, and because of the greater physical intimacy, my partner was being more loving and attentive as well.
Drugs were a solution, a solution for a problem I had zero answers for before – not the problem itself. Not at first.
My son has had an addiction also, to a street drug. His entry point was different. Being young, faced with stress from school, home life and the anxiety of choosing a direction in life as a young adult, he went to a party to blow off steam, and was invited into a bathroom where several other teens, looking happy and excited, invited him to choose a line. His drug made his thoughts slow down and become hyperfocused, and also numbed him emotionally. It was a solution for which he didn’t even realize at the time he had a problem for – he just knew it made him feel like he could do and achieve anything, and having had little self-esteem throughout his life, made him feel amazing and capable for the first time ever. He spent $7000 over five months, but very quickly devolved into spending all his time away from people because of the shame and fear of being found out. It wasn’t a social drug, it was a magic band-aid for feelings he never knew how to manage before. It has held him back in many ways, and he sees it for its truth now. He stopped because of a terrifying near overdose. Of course I worry as a mother about his relapsing, and we have talked about it at great length and come to greater understandings about the reasons and regrets. I never knew about it until he was finished with it. Such is the nature of addiction – there’s either an ending point or a breaking point where family and friends become aware. I count myself incredibly, amazingly lucky that it did not end differently for either of us.
I’m an avid reader, and I’ve been on a course of self discovery and growth for almost five years now. One of my first avenues of self discovery took me down a path of learning why my body was having reactions to foods and why I was so tired all the time that I craved drugs. I realized that some of my symptoms indicated a stressed kidney/liver system, meaning I’d damaged myself with my addiction, and I became determined to understand why I got addicted and to learn how to make sure I didn’t fall under the siren song of the drug again. This was early on in my personal awakening, so I didn’t know yet about shadow work or inner child trauma. I began researching addiction treatment and stumbled across some published works that all indicated that addiction at its roots is formed from a lack of connection.
I was certainly high and mighty in my resistance to this idea at first. It didn’t make sense to me. I had a large family, as did my son. I had many pets and good friends, and I was involved in many social type settings at the time I became addicted. Addiction causes huge rifts in families and social circles, so logically it didn’t follow that something that would press a lack of connection would be caused by it. It probably took me two months to come around to the idea, and it was only after researching lots of known treatments for addiction that I began to see that what works in overcoming it is ONLY a promotion of connection.
Addiction causes more loss of connection through its inherent secretiveness and shame, furthering itself in a vicious cycle. Not feeling as though anyone would understand if you confess, you keep it close and deny yourself honest and genuine interaction. You begin to feel as though you wear masks for others, and you begin to judge them as fake to you as well. When away from them, you judge yourself more harshly, saying that if they knew the truth they would reject you, which makes them judgmental and disingenuous in your own eyes. Soon, the desire to see them and have to put on your mask and put up with their mask falls away, and any connection is lost. Others become someone who, if they ask you for anything, are putting pressure on you to be someone you’re really not – which then places you in a very easily justifiable position of taking from or manipulating them, as you feel the same is already being done to you just with their attempt to reconnect. So you agree to see them – and ask for money, or take out of their medicine cabinet, or swipe something they won’t miss, to feed your habit and make yourself feel less put upon at having to support what you feel is a taking-type relationship where you are already rejected.
When I became addicted, I didn’t have a real and close connection with anyone, just false ones where I felt misunderstood and that I would be rejected if they knew the “real” me. I had a trauma event at age 21 when I lost my husband, where others who had no way to help me or who felt useless at supporting me emotionally, turned completely away and avoided contact with me because of the feelings even thinking about my loss caused within them. I could tell that they avoided me and felt uncomfortable just seeing me. The massive rejection and loss this caused set me up for a very introverted and private lifestyle. Later, seeing others judge and talk gossip about mutual friends gave me a feeling of being judged and misunderstood by them as well. Others never asking about me or my feelings, because they couldn’t even manage their own, made me feel disregarded, rejected and as though uncared for on any deep level. All of this, was MY perception of our relationships, not a neutral view. Their perception was likely skewed as well, in that I didn’t pester them for time and attention, which means to many people I was disinterested and didn’t care for them. Neither view was accurate, but it created emotions in both of us that eventually killed our drive for interactions. Losing any contact or connection over time with anyone who knew me, only drove my need for the drug more, because the drugs numbed me to all that rejection and loss.
So it became a self-destructive, shame ridden, loss invoking cycle, where the only coping mechanism I’d discovered to manage the anxiety and stress of these feelings, was the drug itself. Eventually it evolved into toxic shame and self hate – and any inner drive I had to NOT use the drug was justifiably rejected, because I didn’t care about helping myself get better, since for so long I didn’t feel worthy of self-love, and I only cared about FEELING better in any moment. I didn’t believe myself worthy of anything greater – my life was showing me “proof” I didn’t deserve more by never providing any connection. I didn’t understand – my connection to my own self being low priority, was what opened me up for compromising my values enough to fall prey to the drug. My lack of security in knowing who I was, loving myself, and definitively knowing what I wanted as an end Goal in life, created an opening for drugs to become a daily goal and to define me.
What got me off of drugs was a two fold event, likely orchestrated by my Higher self. One, I ran out, and my supplier was dodging me as he was soon to be assaulted by HIS suppliers who he’d stiffed for over three grand. Two, while I had a hard come down, with shaking and sweats and irritability, I had a terrifying experience where my vision went hazy and I had nausea far beyond what was normal in past comedowns. I’d had a cancer scare years before, and one of the signs I was told to watch for as possible relapse was vision problems and uncontrollable nausea. So for three days, during heavy withdrawals, I was in sheer terror that my habit was about to take my life by relapsing the cancer.
I had lost my supply of the coping mechanism that was making my life bearable. I was damaging my body and not searching for better answers. So my Higher sent the message – you aren’t seeing clearly, you’re making us sick, and you need to decide if you want to live.
I decided, and that day, I began doing deep research into nutrition and cancer causing foods and additives, while laying in bed with tearstained cheeks from the nausea. I had to do it in spurts between crying jags over not being able to see straight. But I didn’t stop. That path led me to my whole awakening process, and brought me back to knowing God and Christ. From that day and turning point, I began cultivating a connection with my body and the messages it was sending me; a connection with the food I consumed; a connection with the type of food producers I wanted to support by purchasing their organic products; most importantly, I began forging a connection with the future I wanted for myself, and I forced myself to decide who I wanted to become. I began cultivating a connection with myself, instead of stuffing away my feelings and telling myself I should suppress them as I wasn’t worthy of having my own feelings validated even to my own self. I began accepting my emotions, and accepting responsibility for managing them in a different way than by using addictive drugs. I was still heavily reliant on Marijuana for several years, until I began meditating and deeply connecting to my inner self. Gradually, I have become a person who validates and expresses herself healthfully, and who will turn to pen and paper as a coping mechanism before heading to a medicine cabinet, out for a joint, or to the refrigerator. Connection was the answer – and since my life was lacking in others who I felt could handle deeply connecting to me, I searched for and found those things I could connect to, (as well as connecting within) and began finding fulfillment instead of blaming the world outside for not connecting to me.
Connection is at the root of treatments like AA, which is why when AA is adhered to, it can cause real and lasting change. People have to feel connected – to who they are as a Soul, to individual others who understand them, (such as an AA mentor) to a community, (like AA provides) and to something greater than them self, (which AA promotes as key)- to finally start to feel empowered enough to develop different coping mechanisms for their stress and anxiety. Feeling that you’re worthy of being heard is critical to being able to express your truth and feelings, and releasing the suppressed emotions from clogging up your personal energy field is what begins to change the addict on a cellular-vibrational level. Believing you are worthy and deserving of a life not being controlled and destroyed by addiction is imperative. For this reason, developing a healthy self image and fostering self love is essential to the process. Until we believe we are worthy of being heard, we won’t express – and until we express, we stay in a lower vibration that allows something else like a drug to control us.
Long term self acceptance, healthy connective relationships and healthy self esteem are the only known cures for addiction. Whenever any of these suffer, the addict may backslide toward being susceptible to the pull of the drug. These factors must be made priority and developed like muscles that are used to hold the addiction far enough away while the addict creates new healthy habits and discovers new coping mechanisms for stress and anxiety.
All of this work MUST be self directed. An addict can NOT be forced by another to do this self-work or have the decision made for them, because making the decision they are worthy of their own work and effort is the ONLY motivation that can’t be justified away as soon as the stress and anxiety bear down again. If a parent or spouse forces them into a program, their feelings of unworthiness will cause them to reject the help subconsciously as a control measure from a person who, to them, obviously doesn’t understand how unhappy they are when living without it. Each addict has to decide for them self when enough is enough with their addiction. They have to decide their life is worth their own effort fighting and working for.
Processing out the shame, guilt, resentment, regret and disappointment in yourself is a long process that’s only fruitful when you have support and validation along the path. Developing the ability to support and validate yourself comes naturally as you install a healthy self esteem. The methods I used to make myself invulnerable to addiction included healthy self talk, expressing my feelings through a private blog and journaling, connecting to others through a social media page, nature walks full of appreciation and gratitude, devoting myself to fulfilling and creative hobbies, getting more involved with my kids and with pets, and reconnecting with my partner and the causes he supported. Over the years my ‘vaccination against addiction’ has evolved to include devoting time to doing deep inner child ‘shadow work’, keeping a gratitude journal and affirmation journal daily, maintaining my hobby interests and always challenging myself to learn new things, deciding on a purposeful career to pursue, and frequent meditation. All of these methods are self directed and empowered, meaning another’s actions or inactions have no bearing on my ability to do them for myself. Choosing these has kept the power in my hands to be what I need to keep myself from becoming an addicted person again. The decision I made, to count myself as worthy of being drug free, to love myself and love my life, was difficult – I still have to make that hard decision every day, but the rest of my decisions are easy in comparison, as that decision puts a filter over all other decisions after it. A filter that asks, “what would a person who loves them self do?” and follows the answer to that question above any judgments or expectations of others that previously clouded the issues.
Addiction is a terrible manifestation into the life of a person who feels dis-empowered and desperate for an easy answer to their pain and frustration at experiencing anxiety and stress. There are far healthier coping mechanisms and habits. I would love to pass on the peace I have by sharing what I know. I’m available for consults at reasonable rates, with packages available that include addiction recovery and relapse prevention techniques.
Love, light and Blessings to anyone suffering with addiction. May you decide to love you, as I already love you.
My direct email for consultation: Soulcollegeadvisor@gmail.com